Life has come full circle for Harold D’Souza. From being a near slave in Lady Liberty’s land, is a member of US government’s advisory council on human trafficking.
On Thursday, US President Barack Obama nominated Harold D’Souza, a 40-year old man of Indian origin as a member of the 12-member US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. Every member of that group is a survivor of human trafficking.
With the hope of living the ‘American dream’, Harold and his wife Dancy moved to the US in 2003, from their home in Vadodara, Gujarat. However, the couple actually hails from Bajpe village in Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district.
In February, 2003, upon a family friend's insistence, Harold and Dancy decided to leave their motherland to live the ‘American dream’. Their children joined them in May, three months later.
The couple were promised help by their friend to start a restaurant in the US, but upon reaching the country, Harold was promised a job that paid him $75,000 a year.
Instead of helping them, the friend did the exact opposite. He exploited the couple. After they landed in the US, Harold learnt that only he had a work visa.
So, the family friend made them work for long hours every day of the week without pay. If they did not do as he directed, he threatened to arrange Dancy’s deportation. Even though all their documents were taken away, the couple did not worry about their salaries initially, as they were told that a portion of the amount was being set aside to buy them a house.
Work was usually 14-16 hours a day and gradually they were made to work even more with the other workers being laid off. Living conditions were not pleasant either, they were made to stay in a small unfurnished apartment and the children also had to sleep on the floor.
Harold said, "They were sleeping like rats. That internally destroyed us,” and "The faith got changed to fear, the promise got transformed into slavery, and my dream was like a hell. Several times during this period, Harold had contemplated suicide. He could even have been murdered well within a year of moving to the States.
They could manage food for only one person, and it had to be shared by all four. This ordeal continued for almost two years until one day they approached the police.
With their backs to the wall, the couple sought the help of the police. They were kicked out of their jobs as a result, and their case was handed to the Ohio Department of Commerce's Division of Labor and Worker Safety, Wage and Hour Bureau.
When their employers became aware of an investigation, he threw them out and incidentally got a cheque of $6,097.80 as partial payment. That was all they got for 19 months of work.
Meanwhile, they had to vacate their small apartment and were living under the mercy of charitable organizations and churches as Harold worked in restaurants for low wages.
But fast forward 10 years, Harold now works for Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center as a senior supply chain associate.
In the fight that continued for a decade and half, the family had been helped by many social organizations associated with the church to fight against the restaurant owner but to no effect as the owner managed to find loopholes in the legal system and filed for bankruptcy.
Speaking about her whole experience, Dancy said, "It might seem the darkest of days when you're actually experiencing what you are experiencing, but there's always a light at the end of the tunnel."
But this is one family that has fought against the tide. Bradly (20), their elder son is in Carl H Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati and was elected as the Board of Directors of a leading non-profit working for preserving sight and preventing blindness.